Well, maybe not… But the announcement that Hyundai had recreated its 1974 Pony Coupe Concept and displayed it during the inaugural Hyundai Reunion held at the historic Villa Pliniana in Lake Como, Italy, was a poignant reminder of the Designers and Engineers who set the Korean company on the road to success it enjoys today.
Taking centre stage at the glitzy launch of the 1974 Pony Coupe Concept alongside Euisun Chung, Executive Chair of Hyundai Motor Group, was Giorgetto Giugiaro (above). He styled this concept as well as the original Pony four-door fastback saloon – and, as is typical of Ital Design’s vehicles of the time, it was neat, tidy, good looking and had significant international appeal.
Euisun Chung said: ‘Despite the poor industrial environment in the 1970s, my grandfather and Hyundai’s Founding Chairman Ju-young Chung poured his heart and soul into rebuilding Korea’s economy and improving the lives of its people after the devastating Korean War.’
He added: ‘I express my sincere gratitude to everyone from both Italy and Korea who played a critical role in the success of Pony.’
Italy and Korea? As much as Giugiaro’s role in the creation and expansion of Hyundai was significant – Ital Design also penned the second-generation Pony and Stellar, both good-looking cars – the United Kingdom played a far more influential part in the Hyundai story. Unfortunately, in the coverage of the event, this went unmentioned.
We’ve told the story of ex-Standard-Triumph, Leyland Motors and British Leyland Motor Corporation executive George Turnbull and his instrumental part in the creation of Hyundai as an independent car manufacturer many times, but it’s definitely worth repeating given that Hyundai Motor (UK) Limited’s Press Release describes Hyundai Reunion as ‘a heritage brand platform that reflects on Hyundai Motor’s past and its future direction’ – especially as the omission of any reference to George Turnbull and his colleagues’ roles might be interpreted by some as potential revisionism.
By way of a brief reminder, as a high-up in British Leyland following the 1968 merger, Turnbull was tasked with making Austin-Morris profitable. On the way to doing that, he created a team that masterminded the development and launch of the Morris Marina. By 1972, the direction he had taken at Austin-Morris was enough to get it out of the red.
That wasn’t enough, though. He missed out becoming Donald Stokes’ deputy in charge of British Leyland, which went to John Barber instead. As a consequence Turnbull quit the firm at the end of 1973 and, in short order, he had been headhunted by Hyundai Motor Company on a three-year contract to establish a new car-manufacturing facility there.
His task was to get the Pony into production within two years. The Pony’s styling was signed off in March 1974 and, by May 1976, it was on sale in the Republic of Korea. A remarkable achievement – beating the Marina’s gestation by a couple of months, and without the benefit of a huge parts bin behind him.
In setting up the Pony’s production at a greenfield site in Korea, he went to what he knew. So he hired a team which included Designer Kenneth Barnett, Engineers John Simpson and Edward Chapman, ex-BRM man John Crosthwaite as Chassis Engineer and Peter Slater as Chief Development Engineer to develop the Pony at pace, and then bought British body presses funded by money borrowed from British banks.
Oh, and as for the Pony’s styling, it was Turnbull who hired Giugiaro to deliver a car perfect for export markets.
However, all of this does make one wonder – with all the navel-gazing about the Austin Allegro, could a Turnbull-run Austin-Morris have ‘done a Hyundai’, and created something new and exciting for British Leyland in the 1970s?
Yes, there were battles to fight, not least the sprawling legacy production sites, union controls, the UK economy of the early 1970s, but could a tightly, George Turnbull-managed Austin-Morris selling a range of reliable vehicles with more international Italian-penned styling have made it?
Turnbull’s story still proves one thing: British design, engineering and management know-how can achieve greatness.
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